Saskatchewan Party government’s culture of secrecy deepens as AEEL denies access to four freedom of information requests on labour related issues
When it comes to access to information and the province’s freedom of information legislation the Saskatchewan Party’s 2007 election promise to “provide Saskatchewan people with more transparency and accountability than any previous government” has turned out to be not worth the paper it was written on. You don’t have to go much farther than the Ministry of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour (AEEL) to see evidence of that.
On Jan. 27, 2009, it was learned that AEEL has, in one fell swoop, denied access to four requests made under The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act for records relating to various labour issues.
According to letters signed by AEEL deputy minister Wynne Young on Jan. 19-20, 2009, access to records in their entirety has been denied to the following:
– Copies of any reviews or analyses that have been conducted by or for the Government of Saskatchewan since May 1, 2008 of The Trade Union Act and The Labour Standards Act.
– Copies of any briefing notes and memorandums, including any attachments, from Feb. 1, 2008 to Nov. 30, 2008 regarding the essential services legislation.
– Copies of any memorandums, including any attachments from Nov. 7, 2007 to Dec. 31, 2007 regarding or relating to essential services legislation.
– Copies of any briefing notes, letters and memorandums, including attachments, from Oct. 1, 2008 to Dec. 23, 2008 regarding or relating to the minimum wage regulations and the amendment to allow workers age 15 and older to obtain employment in hotels, restaurants, educational institutions, hospitals and nursing homes.
In all four cases sections 16 & 17 of the Act, which pertain to Cabinet documents and advice from officials, are cited as the reason for denial.
It appears, however, that AEEL violated the Act by failing to apply section 8 to any of the applications. This part of the legislation is mandatory and requires: “Where a record contains information to which an applicant is refused access, the head shall give access to as much of the record as can reasonably be severed without disclosing the information to which the applicant is refused access.” AEEL did not do this.
These blanket denials would be extremely disturbing in any case, but seem especially more so in this one when you consider that AEEL Minister Rob Norris has spent a considerable amount of time trying to sell a skeptical public on his government’s controversial changes to the province’s labour environment. Withholding information and adopting a bunker mentality would only seem to serve in reinforcing the general suspicion that the Brad Wall government has something to hide.
It should be noted as well that in spring 2008 AEEL denied access in two other applications:
– On May 13, 2008 access was denied to the contract and any correspondence between the Government of Saskatchewan and management lawyer Kevin Wilson from Nov. 8, 2007 to Feb. 29, 2008.
– On May 22, 2008 access was denied to the daily appointment and meeting schedules for Minister Rob Norris and Deputy Minister Wynne Young from Dec. 1, 2008 to Mar. 14, 2008.
Finally, in a June 18, 2008 letter to Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce president Dale Lemke, Minister Norris thanked the business lobby group for its support of The Trade Union Amendment Act and The Public Service Essential Services Act and reassured that more changes were coming: “Part of our continued plan for ensuring a fair and balanced labour environment that is competitive with other Canadian jurisdictions will include an examination of our labour legislation.
“You can be assured that as we move forward the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce’s concerns will receive thoughtful consideration. Your thorough work on these matters will be fully considered as we proceed with our mandate. Input from stakeholders such as your organization is vital to ensuring that the best possible legislation can be developed. I look forward to your continued feedback on these important issues.”
What this means is that Norris and his ministry aren’t finished hiding information from the public.